The joy of witnessing Vince Vaughn in the body of an awkward teenage girl provides intermittent comedic thrills in Christopher Landon’s Freaky. It’s just too bad there aren’t more of them in the latest spotty but certainly watchable low-budget horror flick from the Blumhouse shop. If you have seen the director’s two Happy Death Day pictures, you won’t be surprised he’s behind the camera with this. The first Death reconfigured the Groundhog Day concept to the slasher genre while its sequel veered more toward a sci-fi Back to the Future vibe. Freaky‘s influence is simple and in the title without mentioning the word Friday.
Our body swap involves an urban legend but very real serial killer who goes by the Blissfield Butcher and is played by Vaughn. Millie (Kathryn Newton) is the high schooler mourning the loss of her father while her alcoholic mom coddles her. When the Butcher swipes a mysterious ancient dagger from his previous killing in an attempt to off Millie, it switches their forms. This is just in time for Friday the 13th and they have 24 hours to reverse the effect.
I’ll use this opportunity to praise title cards. I enjoyed how in the lead up to the big day, we see “WEDNESDAY THE 11TH” and “THURSDAY THE 12TH” in bloody scrawl font as if they’re meant to provide a jolt. When Millie does inhabit the Butcher’s 6’5″ frame and has a long pined for romantic moment with her crush, it provides the funniest scene of all (Vaughn’s humorous talents are on full display there).
Yet Freaky is also tonally challenged. Millie’s tragic family dynamics feel slightly forced. The backstory involving that mystical knife called La Dola might be something its makers hope to explain further in a sequel. I’ll credit the screenwriters for finding a couple of Friday the 13th style inventive ways to off lustful adolescents, but the film isn’t exactly scary.
This is more occasionally funny than truly freaky and it ends up being about as entertaining as both Happy Death Day experiences. It succeeds from time to time with its mashup of well known properties, but leaves a bit to be desired.
A slasher version of Freaky Friday comes from the Blumhouse shop with the release of Freaky next weekend. The low budget horror flick features a high school senior (Kathryn Newton) who switches bodies with a serial killer (Vince Vaughn). Christopher Landon (who made Happy Death Day and its sequel) directs and costars include Katie Finneran and Alan Ruck.
Shot for a reported $5 million, its studio has often excelled at turning a tidy profit for its ventures. Early reviews are encouraging with an 87% Rotten Tomatoes rating with particular praise for its two leads. The theatrical window here is unique as it opens on Friday on the 13th and will be available for streaming just three weeks later in early December.
The solid critical reaction and Blumhouse’s marketing talents could push Freaky to make its budget back in the initial weekend. I’ll project that it will.
After being pushed back several months due to its violent subject matter, Blumhouse’s thriller The Hunt debuts next weekend. Based loosely on the nearly century old story “The Most Dangerous Game”, the pic comes from director Craig Zobel. The cast includes Betty Gilpin, Ike Barinholtz, Emma Roberts, Hilary Swank, and Justin Hartley.
As is the case with most Blumhouse Productions, this is a low budget venture with a reported price tag of $15 million. Damon Lindelof, creator of Lost, HBO’s Watchmen, and numerous film scripts, has cowriting credit.
The satiric tale was originally scheduled for September of last year before being delayed following the El Paso and Dayton mass shootings. The Friday the 13th reschedule could manage to capitalize on its past publicity, but I question whether it will. I believe The Hunt may not achieve double digits for its start.
Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man, updating the H.G. Wells novel and classic 1933 film, debuts Friday. With 90% currently on Rotten Tomatoes, the word-of-mouth should propel the pic to quite visible box office numbers. In doing so, Invisible should break a streak of underperforming horror titles in recent months.
Much of the praise from reviewers is centered on its lead Elisabeth Moss. The Emmy winner for The Handmaid’s Tale garnered a small amount of Oscar buzz in 2019 for Her Smell that never came to fruition. I look for this to be the third year in a row where an actress garners buzz for a scary movie. In 2018, it was Toni Collette in Ari Aster’s Hereditary. In 2019 – Lupita Nyong’o for Jordan Peele’s Us. Both performers received a few wins from the critics groups. They both failed to get nods come Academy time.
This will likely be the case for Moss as well, but expect lots of speculation that she could make the cut before she doesn’t. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
Horror pics have faced a tough road so far in 2020 as The Grudge, The Turning, Gretel & Hansel, and Fantasy Island have all posted lackluster debuts. This weekend, I don’t see the trend stopping with Brahms: The Boy II. I do see it changing next Friday with The Invisible Man. From director Leigh Whannell (who recently made Insidious: Chapter 3 and Upgrade), this is an update of the H.G. Wells novel that was turned into a classic 1933 James Whale tale. Elisabeth Moss (who co-starred in last year’s Us) headlines a cast that includes Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, and Harriet Dyer.
This project was originally intended as a vehicle for Johnny Depp as part of Universal’s plans for a franchise that began with 2017’s The Mummy. When that pic brought in less than expected returns, the monster series was scrapped. The Invisible Man has undergone a significant transformation with Blumhouse co-producing. Per usual with that production company, the budget is tiny (a reported $7 million).
Early word-of-mouth is strong with screening members reporting a tense and effective crowd pleaser. Whannell appears to be a filmmaker on the upswing and Moss certainly has her fans from The Handmaid’s Tale and more.
I believe Invisible will be quite visible on the radar screens of genre moviegoers and break the streak of scary disappointments over the past few weeks. A gross of over $30 million might be the result.
The Invisible Man opening weekend prediction: $33.8 million
The latest low-budget concoction from Blumhouse Productions is Fantasy Island, a horror themed take on the kitschy 1970s TV series. Opening over the four-day Presidents Day weekend, Jeff Wadlow (who recently teamed with Blumhouse on Truth or Dare) directs with a cast including Michael Pena, Maggie Q, Lucy Hale, Austin Stowell, Portia Doubleday, and Michael Rooker.
Shot for a reported tiny $7 million, the pic will attempt to bring in youngsters without much reference point for the source material. That said, this particular production shop is savvy about getting an audience and turning a handsome profit. Nearly two years back, Truth debuted to nearly $19 million against its $3 million budget.
The gargantuan profit return may not be quite as pronounced here, but still substantial. For the Friday to Monday frame, I’ll say Island manages low double digits.
Fantasy Island opening weekend prediction: $11.6 million (Friday to Monday estimate)
Blumhouse Productions looks to scare up some Yuletide bucks this season with Black Christmas, the second remake of the 1974 slasher cult hit. Shot for a reported miserly $5 million (par for the course for its low cost and high profit studio), Sophia Takal directs with a cast including Imogen Poots, Aleyse Shannon, Lily Donoghue, Brittany O’Grady, and Cary Elwes.
Turning a tidy profit should be no trouble for the horror title. This genre is rather underserved at the moment and one would think this should at least double its budget out of the gate. That said, the 2006 Black Christmas rustled up only $16 million in its whole domestic run.
With the Blumhouse marketing machine behind this one, however, I expect Christmas to get past double digits for a solid start, especially considering the budget.
Black Christmas opening weekend prediction: $12.1 million
For my Jumanji: The Next Level prediction, click here:
STX Entertainment is hoping that horror fans will spend some time in this Halloween season watching Countdown next weekend. The film (from director Justin Dec) centers on an app that predicts the timeline of people’s demises. The cast includes actors mostly known for TV work – Elizabeth Lail, Jordan Calloway, Talitha Bateman, Tichina Arnold, P.J. Byrne, Peter Facinelli, and Anne Winters.
The techno scare fest could manage to lure in some younger viewers, but many of them could be attending their own costume parties. The final frame of October is traditionally a sluggish one at the box office when newcomers don’t post large debuts. A studio like Blumhouse might be able to market this effectively, but this seems to be generating little heat.
I believe the numbers clock here will stop at just over double digits.
Countdown opening weekend prediction: $10.3 million
The more I thought about it, Ma shares a bit in common with Tate Taylor’s predecessor TheGirlontheTrain in positive and negative ways. They’re both headlined by impressive female performers – Emily Blunt in Train and Octavia Spencer here. And both are hindered by serious messaging tones in a genre that should celebrate its own trashiness. That problem is less pronounced in Ma, but it rears its head enough to make an impact.
The opening finds high school student Maggie (Diana Silvers, recently seen as an object of Kaitlyn Dever’s affection in Booksmart) transplanted to a sleepy small town. Her single mom (Juliette Lewis) is frequently off working at a casino. There’s nothing much to do except find fields to guzzle beer and smoke weed. Maggie finds some friends, including the dreamy Andy (Corey Fogelmanis) and party monster Haley (McKaley Miller). There’s a couple underwritten others who fit various stereotypes. The group needs town elders to buy them the booze and that’s where Spencer’s Sue Ann comes in.
She’s a veterinary technician who’s quite bad at her job. Her boss is played in a small role by Allison Janney, a staple of Taylor’s filmography. Luckily for the kids, she’s skilled at buying their intoxicants. Sue Ann, deemed Ma by the youngsters, befriends them and allows her basement to be the drinking spot. It doesn’t take long for Maggie and company to realize she’s a little too creepily eager to play a part in their lives.
Ma works best early when the motives of Ma are unclear. Her fascination with Andy, her zeal for bumping 70s funk hits amongst a swarm of underage students, and her endless texts and Insta videos to her new buddies set up an effective and pending sense of doom. Without going into serious spoiler territory, Ma’s bizarre behavior is based in her own upbringing and it’s told in flashback sequences. This is where explanatory content didn’t feel totally necessary. The screenplay by Scotty Landes rather clumsily attempts to insert commentary on bullying and harassment. It’s a delicate balance that never quite levels out.
Spencer is great as always and it is fun (again, especially early) to see her play against type. We also have Luke Evans as Andy’s smarmy father who plays a key role in Sue Ann’s past and Missi Pyle as his tawdry girlfriend. Despite some freaky moments, Ma is a mixed bag as we watch this girl on the crazy train go off the rails.
Blumhouse Productions hopes to have a sleeper hit on their hands over Labor Day weekend with Don’tLetGo. The supernatural thriller finds David Oyelowo attempting to retroactively prevent the death of loved ones. Jacob Aaron Estes directs with a supporting cast including Storm Reid, Bryon Mann, Mykelti Williamson, Alfred Molina, and Brian Tyree Henry.
The pic premiered eight months ago at the Sundance Film Festival to mixed reaction. Its Rotten Tomatoes score is at 47%. That’s not a great number to generate buzz and Go appears to be lacking it. While it’s a little risky to underestimate Blumhouse, the Labor Day release date isn’t exactly a vote of confidence.
I’ll say this doesn’t manage to achieve double digits over the four day holiday weekend. Mid single digits is possibly where this goes.
Don’tLetGo opening weekend prediction: $4.5 million (Friday to Monday estimate)